For as long as monstrous V8 engines have been strapped under the hoods of muscle cars in the USA, consumers have been flocking to get their hands on them. Is it the roaring and burbling once you’ve started the car? The throaty exhaust note? Or the sheer thrill of unbridled horsepower that draws them in? Let’s look at what makes these performance vehicles so special.
In any iteration, the Ford Mustang has been an icon in the States for ages. Modern variants of the coupe or convertible are sexier than ever, with outputs ranging from 310 hp and 350 lb-ft to in the base model to 450 hp and 420 lb-ft in the GT version. You could even splurge on the glorious Mustang Shelby GT500 with its 5.2-liter supercharged V8 engine that kicks out 760 hp and 625 lb-ft for the ultimate in American muscle.
But that’s not to say older models aren’t worth looking at – especially if you’re after a more demure version that still performs well, looks great, and doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. The S-197 Mustang is part of the 5th-generation pony car and is known for being an affordable entry into the segment.
These beauties were kitted out with a variety of power plants over the course of the nine-year lifespan before the sixth-gen models were introduced, starting with two V6 options and offering two V8s. Maximum outputs are over 440 hp with the 5.0-liter V8, and for the true enthusiast, a choice between a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission would be obvious. Those who want to get behind the wheel and enjoy the experience would row their own gears.
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There is a lot to appreciate about the ‘Stang, and whether you buy one new or second-hand, the iconic look and tremble-inducing roar of the engine will not disappoint. In older models, you’ll have to be aware that the interior isn’t overly plush, the seats aren’t particularly supportive, and fuel economy isn’t the greatest. But that’s to be expected of a heavy car with a strong engine – and who cares about miles per gallon when there is fun to be had?
BMW 3 Series
German sedans have a reputation for providing incredible driver engagement while ticking the boxes for performance and comfort, too. None are quite as revered as the BMW 3 Series and its M-powered performance star, the M3 – along with the Competition Sport halo car. These Bavarian bruisers are user-friendly and come with more than enough power to thrill, and for the latest year models, these are packed to the brim with features ensuring comfort, convenience, and the latest tech.
But going back a few years sees just as much value to be had in the older versions. The 2012-2019 6th-gen F30 BMW 3 Series had a few parties tricks up its sleeve, and while the massive, dominating grille we are accustomed to on BMW products nowadays was much more demure back then, it is still praised for superlative quality and construction, brilliant performance, and satisfying handling characteristics. It also has a usable back seat and ample cargo space if you need it to double up as a family car – and the added bonus is that gas mileage isn’t negatively affected by the powerful motors available throughout the range.
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The sixth generation of the BMW 3 Series spanned only seven years, and there were seven powertrains on offer during this time. This included the N47 turbocharged diesel engine, four gas engines, and two hybrid options. The N55 inline-six hybrid powertrain gives 335 hp and was one of the automaker’s first attempts at going electric. The aim was to improve performance and mpg at the same time, but with the additional weight added to the car thanks to the hybrid gubbins, neither of these were successfully achieved.
To Buy or Not To Buy…
Buying a car is a personal choice that hinges on many factors, not the least of which is your budget and space requirements. But when it comes to meeting the family needs for some practicality while still hitting the performance targets, the performance sedan is a good bet. A coupe such as the Mustang is a great compromise too, although you will only find space for two additional passengers in the rear, in comparison to the full three-across seat in the 3 Series. But with reasonable MSRPs and even more affordable second-hand price tags, both of these will make for a good purchase, if you find a well-maintained example.